(A/N: Here's chapter twenty four. Last time, the chapter ended on a depressing note. Uh, let's see what happens next? Enjoy!
sacke110: Thanks for the review! It's also sad to write Orihime cry, but it must be done. But I still hate it when she cries.
And thanks for everyone else who reviewed last chapter.)
Gray Rays of Sunshine
It was deathly quiet. The whole apartment was clouded in darkness to accommodate the gloomy atmosphere.
Edward laid back on the couch, staring blankly at the swirling ceiling fan, his arms behind his head. He heard the door shutting behind him. Alphonse must've given up trying to cheer Orihime up. This was the third day in the row and the girl still hasn't moved from that spot on the bed since they found her...just sitting there...heartbreakingly depressed.
Strangely, Orihime's depression was bothering him just as much as the discovery of the awful dark secret the Philosopher's Stone held, if not more. However, he didn't know what to say to make her smile again without making a complete ass out of himself. Frankly, with everything's that happened the last few days, it was better that way. He wasn't in the right mindset, being too filled with anger, torment, and disappointment at the moment.
The blond alchemist just found out that he couldn't use the Philosopher's Stone. The one thing that would end his lifelong quest to regain his and his younger brother's former bodies was utterly useless now! There's no way they could use the stone if it was made from humans. Now, how would he and Al get their bodies back?
Yet, Ed's mind still filled with thoughts of what could've possibly happened that made Orihime so...so dead inside. He had never seen a look of utter despair in her eyes before. And honestly, he wished he hadn't. There something so painstakingly foreign about seeing the usual happy go lucky smile ripped away from the normally cheerful, bubbly ginger haired girl.
To put it bluntly, Edward thought sorrow and depression was something he would never see from Orihime. It was way too alien for the girl that was always overly cheerful and silly and willing to help those in needs.
Ed sighed, dejectedly. He didn't know what to do now.
"Brother?" Alphonse called out to him, his hollowed tone light with worry and minor regret.
"Yeah?" Edward replied, although, he didn't really feel like talking at the moment. But anything to get out of his depressing thoughts.
"What do we do now?"
"I don't know, Al."
There was a few minutes of silence.
"I guess, this is God's way of punishing those who committed taboos," the blond alchemist continued, solemnly, reaching his automail hand out. "I committed the act when I was just a naive kid, and he still holds a grudge." He took a deep breath, placing his medal arm over his forehead to hide his inner shame. "Sorry, Al, I really thought I could return you to normal."
Al didn't say anything. Just sat there as the gloomy silence presumed.
Suddenly there was a loud bang on the door.
"Edward Elric! I know you are in there! Open up! This is the Major!"
"Oh, great. Just what we needed. Major Spazz," Ed thought, bitterly.
"What'd we do?" Alphonse asked, worriedly.
His older brother scoffed. "We ignore him, that's what."
Just then the door broke into pieces, and all hell broke loose.
Orihime didn't know what was going on around, nor could she bring herself to care. She sat in the same position with her knees against her chest and her arm wrapped around them. Her head rested limbly on her legs as the blanket hid her into a world of self guilt, sorrow, and loneliness. She felt numb and lifeless. The tray of rice Al brought in for her laid on the bedside untouched.
Sorrow and pain gripped at her heart. All she could think about was Ichigo. The man she loved with all her heart was possibly dead. They second boy in the word they came to mean so much to her. The first being her brother. How could she'd be expected to do anything when she was mourning her lost love? How could she live on without him? He was everything to her.
There was another knock on the door before it opened quietly, as if the person was being careful not to disturb the emotionally distraught ginger haired girl. Must be Alphonse coming in to check on her again.
"Hey… I just came in to check and see how you were...holding up." No, it wasn't Al this time. It was Ed. She could tell by the awkwardness of his voice. "I just wanted to let you know me and Al found some clues in Laboratory Five, and we're heading out. I thought I should tell you in case...in case you wanted to tag along."
The auburn haired girl heard him sigh in defeat. The weight of bed shifted slightly, meaning Ed sat down.
"I'm not good at these type of stuff. Al's more sensitive and considerate than I am. I don't know what happened to make like this, Orihime."
Ichigo is dead. That's what happened is what Orihime wanted to say, but she couldn't bring herself. It might be foolish of, but there was still a tiny glimmer of hope resting deep inside her heart that Ichigo was still. Severely hurt, but alive, nonetheless.
And saying those three deadly words, admitting that he's dead...would surely bring her over the edge of the soul crushing, black hole of despair she hardly doubt she would ever found the strength to escape from.
"You can't sit here any sulk all day, Orihime. Whatever happened, feeling sorry for yourself won't change a thing. You have two strong legs, use them. Stand up and walk. Keep moving forward."
How could she? If Ichigo is… If he's… She bit her lip, trying to keep herself from sobbing.
"...You're strong, Orihime."
No, she isn't, the ginger haired wanted to retort bitterly. If she was strong, she wouldn't be such a burden on Ichigo. If she was strong, she wouldn't have been easily kidnapped by the Arrancars. If she was strong, Ichigo wouldn't have to suffer and die because of her. She's not strong! She's not strong at all! Rukia's the strong one, not her. That's why Ichigo likes her more.
Face it, the auburn haired girl is pathetic and weak. Everything she does, everything she tries to do, is always insignificant. And the more she sat here in her thoughts of regret, the more she realized Ichigo was only thing from keeping herself from breaking down sooner from sheer loneliness. Being trapped in this world all alone without any of her old friends made flicker of terror and forlornness grow inside her heart until it just became unbearable.
It all reminded her of her days as Aizen's prisoner. Days of hopelessness and anguished filled fright that struck her very being day after day, night after night, wondering if the next day would be her last. At the time, she was fine with it. If it meant dying to protect her friends, she was fine with it. That's why she willing let herself get captured...to save Ichigo and all her other friends lives. It was only thing she was good at. Her life is insignificant compared to all of theirs.
But when Ichigo came to rescue her, she felt incredibly ecstatic. Joy and happiness started to swell inside her heart. She realized, even now when she felt Ichigo's spiritual pressure for the first time in the first few weeks she's been trapped in this world, Orihime felt the same time of joyful exhilaration, desperately pinpointing and clinging onto his spirit energy everywhere she went.
Made all the more true from the moment, the ginger haired girl couldn't feel the orange haired substitute Soul Reaper's spiritual pressure anymore. It was in that moment that she understood how truly isolated she was, and that was when she genuinely began to feel this bottomless, tragic pit of depression and misery that's been gripping at her core for months, but was merely suppressed by the thoughts of Ichigo and the hope that he'd come for her one day. All she had to do was be patient. Wait and be patient. He'd come for her. He always does.
"I've seen how strong you are, Orihime." Edward continued to awkwardly comfort, using words of encouragement, no matter how...unfavorable they felt. It was the thought that counts though. Orihime already knew he wasn't the sensitive or touchy feely type of guy. He let his actions speak louder than his words. Just like Ichigo, she mused to herself. "To be able to smile the way you do, no matter what's thrown at you, that takes really strength."
There was moment of stilled silence. Ed was probably waiting for her to reply back, to make a sound, any type of noise. When she didn't, she heard him letting out a dejected sigh before getting off the bed.
No, don't leave her all alone! She's lonely and scared! She wanted to reach out to him, but she couldn't muster up the courage to do it. Not when she knows, even though she wants him to stay, she'd just be burdening him with her problems. And they're hers to deal with alone.
"I'm not going to force to tell me what got you so depressed, Orihime. Just know… Whenever you feel like talking, I'd be there to listen."
The only sound that reached her was the sound of the door opening and shutting.
Rays of sunshine broke through the window, waking Orihime up from her dreamless slumber. She must've dozed off sometime after Edward and Alphonse left. Memories of her one sided conversation with Ed flashed through her mind.
A part of her knew he was right that she couldn't rot the rest of her days away in sorrow and guilt. But… But… It'll take years for the pain in her heart to heal. Her heart would never fully heal.
She guessed finally getting out of bed after days of willow in grief and sorrow would be a start. The auburn haired girl sluggishly climbed out of bed. She took and noticed the plate of rice Alphonse left for her last night.
At least she had something to it. She wasn't in the mood to cook and eat a big breakfast as she would normally do. Might as well warm up this day old rice, and then, afterwards, have a walk around the city to clear her head.
The usual sounds of Central reached Orihime's ears. From business workers hurrying to their jobs to owners greeting customers in their shops and children laughing and playing together without a care in the world.
Orihime just couldn't bring herself to enjoy, no matter how the sun's rays beated against her pale skin, trying to brighten up her gloomy mood. Maybe coming out of the apartment was a bad idea. She should turn back now, if she couldn't at least bring herself to pretend to be happy. It's rather...shameful for everyone to see how miserable she is.
Just as the ginger haired girl was about to cut her losses and retreat back to her isolated sanctuary, she heard a voice call out to her.
"Orihime! Orihime!" The voice sounded frantic and urgent, yet oh, so familiar.
It was soon revealed that it was Second Lieutenant Maria Ross calling out to her.
Realizing the state she was, the auburn haired quickly wiped away the tears that stuck to her eyelashes, and put on a smile. A smile she was so used to showing to hide her inner turmoil.
"Uh, Ms. Ross, uh, good morning. What brings you here?" Orihime asked.
"This is no time for greetings, Orihime! Edward asked me to come get you," Ross replied, voice filled with urgency.
"Edward did?" the younger girl inquired. She had a bad feeling about this.
"He's been injured!"
Orihime was led into the hospital room where Edward was recuperating. She hesitated to open the door. She wasn't ready to face him. Not like this.
Ross opened the door, making the decision for her.
The ginger haired girl gasp at the sight of the Fullmetal Alchemist. He was worse than she thought. There were bandages around his forehead and chest, and his arm was in a cast.
"Edward!" she cried out, worriedly, rushing up to his bedside.
"Uh, hey, Orihime," Ed awkwardly greeted her.
"Wha…? How did this happen? Who hurt you?" the ginger haired girl fired each question, apprehension and fear laced in her tone.
Ed felt a little bad for making her worry like this. "I'm fine, Orihime. This is nothing."
The auburn haired girl noticed that Alphonse wasn't in the room as well. "Where's Al?"
The blond alchemist frowned. "I don't know," he answered. "He's been acting weird lately. He won't even tell me what's on his mind."
She smiled. "I'm sure he'll come around."
Ed didn't respond.
Finding nothing else to say, Orihime began working on healing him.
"Oh, wow," Brosh awed in amazement. "I've never seen alchemy quite like this before. Have you, Ross?"
"No, I haven't," Ross replied back, equally astounded as she stared at the glowing orange doom. "What kind of alchemy is it?"
"It's not alchemy…," Orihime inwardly sighed.
The room laid in silence as Edward waited for his ginger haired companion's healing technique to take effect. He waited and waited, but the usual warm and tender sensation he always gets under Orihime's dome didn't seem to be working. He could still feel the pain of last night's injuries. But why? Her powers always seemed to work. Why doesn't it work now? What could be the reason?
Ed wanted to ask the auburn haired about it, but was stopped short when he noticed the unshed tears stuck against forming around watery gray eyes. The girl herself seemed to lost in thought, not noticing the tears.
The blond alchemist felt that pang in his heart again at seeing her tearful face. "Uh, Orihime?" he awkwardly called out to her.
His call snapped her out of distressful thoughts. Thoughts about Ichigo and what could have been if she was still in her world.
She glanced at the floor painfully, a shadow casting over her eyes. "I… I think I better go for a little walk."
Before Edward could protest, Orihime was already out the door. He wanted to go after her, but the pain from his wounded torso was prevented him from moving or else he'll reopen his wound.
There was another thing Ed was remembering. He was going to have to call Winry to get his automail fixed.
Orihime felt ashamed of herself. How could she cry like that? And in front of Edward? Guess, she wasn't ready to leave the apartment, after all.
As she was walking down the halls ignoring the bustle and hustle of doctors and nurses and chatting patients and their visitors, she saw a shiny gleam in the corner of her eye. She stopped to take for a second to take a closer look. Upon closer inspection, the auburn haired girl realized it was armor clad friend, Alphonse sitting in the dark corner of a hallway all by his lonesome. But why was he so down? He isn't his usual cheery self, that's for sure.
"Hey, Alphonse," Orihime called out to him.
The armor helmet lifted up at the sound of her voice. "Oh, hi, Orihime," Al greeted her back, however, he didn't sound as enthusiastic as he normally did, which made her frown.
The ginger haired girl took a sit next to him. "You know," she started, tentatively. "Edward is really worried about you. He says you won't even talk to him. Are you two having a fight?"
"How about you, Orihime?" Alphonse decided to change the subject. "Why were you so upset for the past few days?"
The ginger haired girl's smile went away, a sad expression etched on her face. "I was just...thinking about some...stuff is all," she answered, vaguely. By the way she replied, Al obviously knew she didn't want to talk about the 'stuff' she was dwelling on that made her go through days of depression.
The visible silence was a gloomy one as they both didn't want mull over what has them so upset.
"You know," Orihime finally started. "I had a fight with my brother, too." She twisted her hand into the fabric of her blue, mini dress. "I've never told anyone about this. Not even Tatsuki knows."
She could feel Alphonse's eyes on her, but continued on anyway. "It was a rather silly fight. You see, these hairpins were a birthday gift from my brother. I didn't like them because they looked too childish. After our argument, we didn't talk to each other during. And the next day, my brother died in a car crash, and our last conversation was just a silly argument." She clenched her fist tighter into her dress. "Just a stupid fight," she finished with a wistful smile.
Al stayed silent for a few minutes, trying to take everything the ginger haired girl was saying in. "Why are you telling me this?"
"Why?" She paused for a second. "Probably because I don't want neither you nor Eddie saying something you might regret for the rest of your lives. It's okay for you two to fight. After all, it's only natural for siblings to get into an argument once in a while. But don't forget that you two are brothers. If there's anything wrong, you should talk to him. Because no one understands his feelings better than you, and no one understands your feelings, Al, better than Eddie."
"But what if… If he's not really my brother?" Alphonse mumbled quietly, the reason for his despondency.
"Not your real brother, huh?" Orihime pondered this for a second. "Well, I couldn't say for sure if you two are really blood related siblings or not. I've never met Alphonse Elric in flesh and blood before. But I don't think being related really matters. What matters are your feelings. Feelings of love. That's all you need. All you ever need. No matter what the reason, could you honestly say you don't have an ounce of love for your brother, or say Edward doesn't have an ounce of love for you?"
"I get it. I get what you're trying to say, Orihime," Al breathed out, trying to find the words he wanted to expression. He had some doubts and he still does, but having this talk with her was making him realize something more important. Even he does turn out to be an artificially created soul, Edward is still his brother.
As if noticing his struggle with his inner turmoil, the auburn haired girl gently placed his hand on his armored shoulder, minding to avoid the spikes. "Just talk to Edward and sort this out, okay?"
The soul bonded armor let out a hollow breathless sigh. "...Okay. I will talk to brother."
She smiled. "Good." She got up from the bench.
"Are you going back to brother's room?"
She shook her head. After her last incident, she was too embarrassed to show her face around Edward for a while. But the conversation she had with Alphonse just now made her feel a little bit better.
"No, I'm going to take a little walk. There's...too much...white around here."
Al tilted his armor head in confusion, wondering what she meant by that as he watched her form slowly descend down the hall.
"WHAT HAPPENED?!" one Winry Rockbell screamed as took one glance at the severely injured Edward lying on the hospital bed. She was told by Major Armstrong that Ed was in the hospital and she knew that he got into another fight because Edward told her himself, which was why she was here in Central to repair his automail. But… She never thought he was hurt this badly.
Nina rushed towards Ed's bedside, blue eyes filled with worry. "Are you okay, big brother Ed?" she asked in a childlike worried tone.
Golden eyes blinked in surprise at seeing the little girl. He glanced up at Winry in confusion. "You brought Nina along?"
"Yeah," she admitted. "For someone so young, she's very persistent. Once she found out I was leaving to Central, she wanted to visit her big brothers and big sister and wouldn't take 'no' for an answer."
Winry quieted as she took in her childhood friend's injured state.
Noticing her pitying stare, Edward gave a her a sheepish, boyish grin. "It's not as bad as it looks, Winry."
The blonde mechanic's expression turned into one of sorrow and guilt. She bent her head down to hide her face behind her bangs. "This is all my fault, isn't it? Because I did such a poor job on your automail, you were hurt very badly."
Everyone in the room gave Ed a look, causing him to sweat profusely and look guilty for making Winry worry. "It's not your fault, Winry!" he replied, hastily. "It broke because I was reckless! You know how much of an idiot I can be at times."
The blonde girl gave a sideways glance. "He doesn't realize I forgot the screw, does he?"
She laughed loudly. "You are a reckless idiot, Ed!"
Ed scowled at her. "So much for trying to be nice," he thought, sourly.
"Well, let's get started on your maintenance," Winry prompted. "I'll have charge the usual rush hour fee, of course."
It was then she noticed an empty plate, but the bottle of milk was left untouched. "You didn't drink your milk," she scowled, angrily at him. "Edward."
The tension became so thick, it could be cut by a knife.
"I hate milk," Edward muttered, darkly.
The blonde mechanic threw her hands over her head in exasperation. "You're going to be small and stunted forever if you keep using that lame excuse!"
"Shut up!" the blond alchemist yelled, furiously. "I don't have to drink what I hate!"
"You sound like a spoiled brat, Edward Elric!" Armstrong interjected.
"You should really drink your milk," Nina added. "Or else you won't grow to be big and strong, like that man," she finished, innocently pointing at Major Armstrong.
Edward deadpanned at that. "I don't believe the Major is a good motivation to get me to drink more milk…"
Winry let out a tired sigh. "And here I thought you got over your milk phobia since you drank it back in Resembool."
"Well, that's only because Orihime…," he started to argue, but then fell silent.
She tilted her head in confusion. "What about Orihime?"
Edward had a saddened look in his eyes. "Lately, she's been feeling down, and she won't tell us why. She even left earlier crying." He sighed, dejectedly. "I just...don't know what to do." He glanced up at his mechanic. "Maybe you could talk to her, you know, since you're a girl and all."
Winry blinked at what Ed was trying to tell her. Orihime's been crying? She shook her head. "Why doesn't she just tell him how she feels? It'll save herself the heartache," she muttered, quietly to herself.
"Tell who what?"
She stilled for a minute, having been caught thinking aloud. "Oh, it's nothing. I'll have a girl to girl talk with Orihime later."
Edward grinned sightly. "Thanks."
Winry smiled in return. "Shall we begin repairing that automail of yours already?"
Orihime didn't know where she was going while she once again strolled the streets of Central. All she knew that she wanted to get out of there. All that white it reminded her of… A cold shiver ran up her spine. She held a hand to her stomach to keep herself from feeling nauseated.
"I'm not there. I'm not there. I'm free. I'm free! Ichigo saved me! I'm. Not. There!" she repeated to herself in a mantra to remind herself that this isn't Hueco Mundo. Surely, the lively, busy roaming around the streets were prove enough.
She leaned against the wall, trying to keep her breathing in check before she starts to hyperventilate. The air around her started to feel suffocating. She dragged a sweaty palm up to her forehead, trying to wipe off the sweet forming there.
"Are you alright, dear?"
The ginger haired girl had to force herself not to scream out as she jumped up, startled, and quickly turned around, her gray eyes in alarm. When she realized who it was, she instantly calmed down.
Gracia stared back at the girl with worried filled eyes. "I'm sorry, dear. I didn't mean to frighten you."
"No, it's okay," Orihime replied, swiftly. "I've just been...distracted lately." It was then she noticed the grocery bags in the woman's hands. "Doing some shopping, Gracia."
The brown haired woman smiled. "Yes. Today's my daughter's third birthday."
The young girl clapped her hands, happily. "Congratulations!"
"Thanks. I've just finished. Now, all I have to do is cook this for the big party tonight."
"Oh? Can I help?"
"Why not? Elicia would also love to see you again!"
Orihime smiled as she followed Gracia back to her house.
"Big sis! You're back!"
Gracia was right. Elicia did miss her as the little girl ran straight up to her the moment both mother and daughter opened the door after the former picked her up from her friend's house.
Elicia tugged at the bottom of the older girl's dress. "Can we play, big sis?"
Orihime gave an apologetic smile, crouching down to her level. "I'm helping your mom cook, Elicia."
This didn't seem to deter the young child's enthusiasm. "I want to help, too!" Big green eyes stared up at their mother, pleadingly. "Mommy, can I help? Please, mommy?"
At the pleading, puppy dog stare she was giving her, the young mother couldn't possibly say 'no' to her only child. Although, Gracia wanted to say 'no' and tell Elicia to play in her room, she knew the young girl wanted to spend as much as she could with her big sis.
Reluctantly, she gave in, and the three of them were cooking for tonight's party. Gracia was busy stirring soup in a pot while Orihime was cutting the carrots with Elicia passing each new carrot along as she finished the last.
"How are the boys doing?" Gracia asked, trying to start a conversation.
"They're doing fine," Orihime immediately answered, knowing she was referring to Ed and Al, but then she paused. "Well, Edward is in the hospital, but he's okay. I guess…"
"Oh, my… Is he okay? Will Ed be alright?" the young woman, her face contorted that of a worried mother's.
"Yeah, Eddie would be fine," the ginger haired girl replied, softly, taking another carrot Elicia handed to her. "He's too determined and driven to let something like a minor injury stop him."
"It almost reminds me of the days that I used to worry and fret over Maes being in the military back when we were younger," Gracia reminiscent, fondly. "But I knew Maes loved his job as much as he loved me, and going out his way to help people is what he lives for. That's why he joined the military in the first place. And as his wife, I needed to do whatever I could to support him and offer him the comfort he needs when he's feeling down."
Orihime completely understood where the woman's coming from, and she could see how dearly Gracia loved her husband and was still in love with him to this very day.
"Sometimes… I don't think what I'm doing is never enough," Orihime said, solemnly, thinking about her own failings. "What I do…" Her shoulders started to shake. "...Always seem insignificant in the end. Pointless. Just one failure after another. I always feel like I'm just getting in everyone's way in the end."
As she said this… Imagines of everything that's happened to her filled her mind. The Arrancars, the resulting kidnapping, her closest friends coming to rescue her, them getting beaten terribly, and Ichigo almost dying twice because of her. And look at what happen now, she wasn't there to help Edward when he needed it because she was too busy wallowing in self guilt and remorse, and now he's hospitalized.
Everything she does or doesn't do always leaves a burden on others. She struggled held back her tears.
Gracia offered the girl a kind smile, and shook her head. "That's not true at all, dear. I think all that matters is that you are there for the brothers, always be their side supporting them. It doesn't matter how little or how big those boys would appreciate it either way. You just need to offer them the emotional support they need, and make sure they don't deter themselves from the road they set out for themselves. Isn't that more than enough in itself?"
Orihime happiness swell inside her chest. Everything that's been happening the past few hours was making her forget about her troubles.
She smiled as she wiped her tears. "Y-you're right. Thanks, Gracia."
The woman smiled in return. "Anytime, dear. And you're always free to talk to me whenever you feel sad or depressed about something. I'm always here to listen."
The auburn haired girl nodded, taking her up on her offer.
Just then there was a knock on the door.
"I'll get it!" Orihime offered as she raced towards the door, little Elicia trodding after her with a 'me too!'.
When she opened the door, she was immediately meet the bespectacled man. "Oh, hello, Mr. Hughes," Orihime greeted him with a smile. She also took notice of the blonde haired girl standing behind him. "Winry? What are you doing here?" she asked, surprised to see the girl.
"Big sister Ori!" Nina wailed out in happiness, immediately running up to give the older girl a hug, almost knocking her over.
The ginger haired girl smiled brightly and bent down to the girl's level. "Nina, I missed you! Have you been good?"
The short brown haired girl nodded her head. "Yep! Big sister Winry and granny Pinako has been very nice to me."
Elicia, getting fed up by not seeing what was happening, rounded around Orihime. "Daddy! You're home!" she cried out, happily.
"Oh, my little darling," Hughes cooed, pulling his precious daughter into a hug and rubbing his bearded chin against her chubby cheeks, causing her to giggle at how tickliest it felt.
"Stop it, daddy!" the young child potested in between fits of childish giggle. "Your beard is tickly."
Orihime brought her focus back on the blonde mechanic.
"Long time no see," Winry spoke. Then she frowned. "Ed's been telling me you haven't been feeling like yourself lately? He's been really worried."
"Oh?" Orihime quickly realized where she was going with this. "I'm okay now."
The other girl seemed unconvinced. "Are you sure?"
"Yep! I'm better! Truthfully, I guess I was just overthinking things," she answered, honestly. "I'm sorry to have worried him. I'll go have a talk with Eddie first thing tomorrow after I heal his injuries. But right now…" A sly grin crossed her face. "It's party time!" she yelled out, excitedly, pulling the surprised girl in.
As promised, Orihime followed Winry into Edward's room, the party and festivities of last night weighing on their minds. Both girls deciding to leave Nina at Hughes's place because Elicia was elated to have a playmate near her age, albeit a bit older but not too much older like the two teenage girls. Although, the ginger haired girl was still bit embarrassed to show her face in front of the blond alchemist, she knew she couldn't hide from him forever.
Both girls froze at the sound of Al's voice. He sounded...a bit unsure.
"Yeah, Al?" They could hear the curiosity in Ed's voice as he patiently wanted for his younger brother continue.
Alphonse paused, hesitating on his next words. "Can we talk? Privately?"
"Privately?" They could mentally see the question marks raising on the older Elrics heads. "We could talk here, Al."
"No, it's...too personal to talk here."
Edward seemed to contemplate this for a moment. It's obvious his little brother wanted to get something he was keeping to himself off his chest. He gave in. "Sure… How about on the roof?"
"As long as it's okay for you to move," the suit of armor agreed.
The two girls heard the door opening.
Once Ed took notice of the auburn haired girl, he immediately paused, his golden eyes shining with worry and guilt.
"The same eyes Ichigo has when he fails to protect someone," Orihime inwardly noted.
"Uh, Orihime…," Ed started, remembering what happened yesterday.
The girl simply smiled, the same bright smile that Edward didn't realize how much he missed until recently, not that he'd ever admit it. "I'm good, Eddie! Remember, I'm a big girl, I recover fast. Now, I go talk to your brother."
She shooed the both of them away.
"Shouldn't we follow them?" Winry asked.
The other girl shook her head. "No, let them talk. Brother to brother. We'll wait for them right here."
Orihime and Winry waited for about half an hour for the Elric brothers to return. And once they, Al seemed particular happier than usual, like a huge weight been lifted off his metallic shoulder. Ed did also, albeit more subtly, trying to keep the tough guy act, but Orihime could spot the minor changes.
"...This guy knocked me out."
Edward was in the middle of explaining what happened to him in Laboratory Five with Al pinching in, telling his own side.
Hughes leaned in, studying Edward's crude drawing of the Homunculi, the Ouroboros tattoo, and the Transmutation Circle he saw there.
"Do you think the military is somehow involved in all this?" Armstrong asked, his face scrunched him, contemplatively.
Hughes rubbed his chin, a stern look on his face. "I don't know. It's hard to believe the military would be involved with a conspiracy like this."
"That said, we can't rule out the possibility. I'll go ahead and investigate more on this matter."
"Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen."
An unfamiliar voice startled the occupants in the room.
All the military men, including the Elrics were shocked to see the Fuhrer standing before them.
"Fuhrer King Bradley?!" they all, except Orihime, shouted in alarm. They instinctively saluted to the man.
Orihime was getting a different, unpleasant, very unpleasant vibe from the man. Something about him didn't feel right. He felt human, but his spirit energy felt close enough to be a homunculus. But that couldn't be right? How could a person feel human, yet at the same time, not? Is there such thing as a inner homunculus similar to Ichigo's inner Hollow? Is that it?
Not to mention his inner malice was leaping out in crushing waves. The ginger haired girl broke out in cold sweat. Just being near this guy, it felt like she was suffocating, dangling by a rope. Her whole body was shivering, telling her to stay away from this man as much as possible.
Just by simply being the room with him, Orihime instinctively felt like her life was being threatened. She felt like she was walking to her death, and he's the executioner. Only one thought crossed her mind.
"I don't like this man. I don't like him, at all."
She felt an elbow jab to her side, almost knocking her to her side. She gave Edward a startled look, who silently pointing at the Fuhrer.
Orihime almost jumped. She was so lost in thought, she didn't notice Bradley's attention on her.
The Fuhrer let out a light chuckle that felt ominously chilling and off putting to her. "I'm sorry to frighten you."
"U-um, that's okay." She had to keep her quivering nerves in check. She unconsciously gripped Ed's shirt to calm herself. The blond boy noticed this, but made no mention. "I was just thinking… I daydream a lot, so it happens," she explained, trying to offer one of her usual smiles.
"Are you Orihime Inoue?" the Fuhrer asked.
"Uh, yes, sir," she nodded in confirmation.
"I heard by you from my subordinates. You're the mysterious healer who's traveling with the Elric brothers." He rubbed his chin, thoughtfully. "I always wanted to see your powers first hand. This is as good opportunity as any. Do you mind showing me your work?"
"Uh, s-sure," she replied, trying to keep a steady voice. She turned her attention on Edward, trying to keep her mind off the Fuhrer standing behind her, observing her like a simple human tool with interesting abilities.
"Interesting," Bradley commented as he watched keenly as Orihime worked her magic. The other two military men seemed to be in awe as well at watching this 'unique alchemy'. "That's a very impressive ability you have, Orihime," the Fuhrer complimented, seemingly impressed. However, a compliment from the ruler of Amestris left goosebumps along the girl's arms. "Could be quite useful in the military."
The auburn haired didn't say anything, just bowed her head in thanks.
"Where is he?!"
Bradley clicked his tongue. "Dang, bodyguards. Think they're my shadows," he muttered to himself. He opened onto an open window sill. "I sneak out of doing paperwork…," he quickly explained to the flabbergasted occupants as he hopped out.
It was just then that Winry entered the room. She took in everyone's surprised expression. "Uh, did something happen?"
"Just a tornado passing through," Edward answered, lamely.
Orihime inwardly shook. Tornado… No, that was a vicious hurricane.
The Elric brothers and Orihime along with Winry found themselves on a train ride to Rush Valley. The initial plan was to go to Dubilith to visit Ed's and Al's teacher. But once Winry realized that the Rush Valley was on the way, she squealed like a fangirl insisting that she tag along as the stop by Rush Valley first. After much reluctancy, Edward gave in, thanks to the prodding of his little brother and ginger haired companion.
"You be good for Gracia and Mr. Hughes, okay, Nina?" Orihime said to the little girl.
Nina nodded her head enthusiastically. "Yep! I will! Have a safe trip! Bring presents!"
The older girl smiled and laughed as she waved goodbye as the train started to take off.
"They've finally taking off…," a male's voice whispered, tone full of malice.
"Good. Time to set our plan into motion," another female voice replied, darkly. "I hope to get a good fight in as well. I just hope...they last long enough to make it...entertaining."
(A/N: Here's the end of chapter twenty four! Did you enjoy it? I hoped so! There's one thing I want to say is that next chapter might take a while as their is going to be an obvious fight/action scene coming up. And not one from the anime. So, if you've been fan of my work, then you know writing an original fight scene is not...my strongest suit when it comes to writing. But since most of fanfics are mostly from the action/adventure side of anime and manga, then writing one is almost inevitable...unless I write post-canon stuff and go to the lovey dovey of being married and being in a relationship and all that stuff. For this reason, I may have a chapter of 'Orange and Yellow Makes Red' up before the next chapter of this, just to give you guys something. Maybe, Okay… *takes a deep breath* I'm going to go into a long rant/explanation about future events of this story without spoiling anything.
This story would focus, not only the problems alchemists face, but regular civilians face as well. One of the problems I had with the anime, with the exception of Winry and not including Ling and his group of course, it mostly focused on alchemists and their problems, besides the people involved in the Ishval War. Yes, I know alchemists are basically the star of the anime, but I believe non alchemists are affected by the problems alchemists cause just as much as alchemists themselves are. So… Just be prepared for some non alchemists characters with their own problems and deal with, and not a one chapter issue to solve thing.
Uh, this story is going to become a bit...grayish. At least more grayish than in Brotherhood. Instead of the humans are special or unique mentality Brotherhood tries to present us with, I'm going with the humans are flawed, but try to do good despite their flaws. And for anyway, who's seen Bleach knows where I'm going with this as we can't have a Hollow without a human being corrupted by their own negative emotions after death. Sorry, for spoiling it for any future Bleach watchers, but really it's only a minor spoiler. Anyway, I'm obviously not going for the everything is as black and white as it seems. It's going to be somewhat morally ambiguous. What I mean is that all humans have a desire that they keep deep down in fear of hurting others. But is it okay to keep those desires in? Or no one is inherently good or inherently bad. Everyone acts the way they do because of their upbringing, for the most part. Or that people do selfless things for selfish interest. Or that we all try do good/be selfless without realizing the consequences it has on ourselves before it's too late. You know, the balance between selflessness and selfishness. I hope you guys get my point. Well, let's just say that Edward, Alphonse, and Winry (oh, Winry… What I have planned for you, I'm sorry. Let's just say… There's more trauma coming your way later in the story.) all this out...the hard way. Find out what it means to really be 'human'. And are they ready to face the flaws of being 'human'? *cough* Hollowfying after death… *cough* That's one problem I had with Bleach, especially years later when I watched Madoka Magica, and seeing minor similarities between dead souls becoming Hollows and Magical Girls turning into Witches. How come no one reacted with fear of death, knowing that they might turn into hungry, soul eating monsters? I know if it was me, I would be even more scared to die and maybe be insane enough to look for ways towards immortality. My only guess is that they just come with the solid conclusion to just life to the fullest, and if they do die, quickly let go of any regrets and move on. Anything better than being a thoughtless monster. I guess, this story would kind of be philosophical, but not much. I'm not much of philosophy person myself, but I won't say I don't have my moment interest from time to time. Overall, the story is going to be a bit darker than Brotherhood but lighter than 2003 FMA. At least, I hope. I don't know how far I'm going take these dark undertones... Just know that there isn't any blood or guts, at least, not graphically. That isn't what I mean by 'dark'. Ugh! Forgot what else to say… But I think I go most of it down. You know the old saying 'if you don't die a hero, you'll eventually see yourself turning into a villain'. Well, this case 'dying' should be replaced with 'passing on', but still the same effect.
Ummm… Okay, now actually regarding this particular chapter. I realize I'm going to get harped for this regarding Orihime's inability to heal Ed the first time around. I may be a bit exaggerating, but people tend to forget that Orihime's powers are powered by her emotions. People always tend to overlook this 'minor' thing. The major aspect supporting this is her inability to use her Koten Zanshun to its full effect is because she lacks any hatred or malice or anger or anything regarding those types of emotions. And why her healing is the most effective because of her compassion for others and caring nature. As she gets more in toned with her emotions, she starts to learn more and more abilities. I can see the reason Orihime's powers failed the first time around was because she was too much driven by heartbreak and grief, but she managed to overcome it thanks to Al and Gracia, and remembering that maybe she was just overthinking things. Just because she can't feel Ichigo's spiritual pressure anymore doesn't guarantee that he's dead. There could be something else going on. She's just as to maintain that positive outlook. Probably goes back to what happened in Hueco Mundo still haunts her. Remember, this story takes a place a few months after her rescue. I doubt she got over her pile of horrific experiences in just one night. But she's trying to cope. But I would say Orihime hasn't really hit the despair horizon as you might think. At least, not yet.
Originally, I was going to make Orihime go to Riza for comfort, but then I thought 'naw'. It's not that I don't like Hawkeye. I just don't think she's the right person to turn to for these types of...emotional situations. But I have thought of a few Orihime/Riza bonding moments, which would come later in the story. I don't know how much or many of them we'll see, but they'll be there. I always thought that Riza would be the stern yet gentle and protective big sister towards Orihime while Gracia would be the mother she never had.
I also feel like the fight between Alphonse and Edward regarding if Al's memories are fake or not could be handled a bit. This is just a classic case of poor communications kills. And really Al? Are you going to let a deranged psychopath get into your head like that? Someone like that is the last person you should trust to tell you who you are. I guess… They wanted to give Al some character development after focusing on Ed for so long. Could have done it better though. There's a way for him to talk to Ed about it without blowing his top off. And being a scientist and an alchemist like his brother, shouldn't use it as more of a motivation to get his body back? I don't know… I guess, he could go about it in a theory like way of does Alphonse Elric exist or not? *shrugs* I don't know. I just don't know if they were going with the 'boys are irrational, girls are emotional' vibe.
Oh, the beginning, as Ed was trying to comfort Orihime was also a callback to their time in Resembool as when they had their heart to heart conversation. Just to let you guys know.
Okay, I think that's it. Sorry for the long rant. There was just some stuff that needed to be said. If I forgot anything, I'll probably just tell it in next chapter's author's notes. Anyway, leave any suggestions, comments, and questions in a review, and I'll see you next time! *whispers to self* I really hope to reach a hundred reviews. I'm so close…!)